What Does Google Consider to Be Quality Content?
Many of the small businesses that have survived the pandemic lockdowns, have scaled staff back. Increasingly business owners are choosing to save money by doing more in house.
If this is you, then you undoubtedly have to triage your time. If producing content is part of your strategy, then it will pay to understand the importance of quality content. This article is designed to provide a shortcut to that knowledge, by outlining the basics.
But first, realize:
- Quality is the most important search engine ranking factor.
- Only 9% of websites get any traffic from Google.
Quality is #1
We can use common sense to arrive at a definition of quality content. But given that the quality of your content is paramount to Google, it makes sense to understand how Google defines quality.
Remember that the goal of quality content is to provide value to the user. This is Google's goal in its algorithms as well.
It Takes Effort
When we were in school our teachers sometimes said, "This really isn't your best effort." At other times we may have received an "A+" and not been surprised, because we put our all into the project. Google is like your schoolteacher.
In Google's words, "creating high quality MC [main content] takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill."
Google is like a schoolteacher who knows you can do better.
Think about the articles on your website now. Do they manifest the above characteristics?
Let's contrast those qualities with their opposite:
- Plagiarized content
- Content that was thrown together with little thought
- Content that provides no clear value to the user
- Unsubstantiated claims, factual errors, or use of questionable sources
- Content that is disorganized, formatted poorly, and needs editing
Learning from Google’s guidelines
Google uses human raters in addition to algorithms. The raters' assessments do not affect the ranking of content; they are used to assess how well the algorithms are engineered. However, reviewing the guidelines used by the raters — a 175-page document — even briefly, provides clues as to how Google rates content.
91% of websites get no traffic from Google.
Low quality content
Here are some sample descriptions of web pages that deserve a "low" ranking:
- “the writing has frequent misspellings, typos, and grammar errors”
- "garbled information and a lack of editing: Both of these characteristics in combination justify the Lowest+ to Low rating."
- "contains mostly commonly known information and poor quality writing"
- "The article fails to cite sources"
- "The title of the article is misleading"
- "The writing of this article is unprofessional, including many grammar and punctuation errors"
- "appears to have been paraphrased from a science article found on a different source"
- "copied content with little or no time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users"
High quality content
Here are some quotes on high quality content from the guide:
- "original, accurate, comprehensive, clearly communicated, professionally presented"
- "High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness . . ." (This is referred to colloquially as "EAT." EAT is determined in context of the purpose of the page.)
- The amount of quality content can also be a factor: "A satisfying amount of high quality MC (main content) . . ." (Emphasis ours)
- Google may take into account website reputation, as inferred (partly) from third-party groups. Example: "This is a highly reputable charity according to multiple charity rating organizations." (Emphasis ours)
The functionality on the website is also considered when assessing quality. For example, in the case of a shopping cart, is the checkout smooth, simple, intuitive? Or is it confusing to the user? Is there a clear return/refund policy (if relevant)? Is it easy to find what you're looking for? Is it easy to discover who the website owner is?
Medium quality is described as "Nothing wrong, but nothing special."
Format and order
Read Jakob Nielsen's groundbreaking research on How Users Read on the Web. The summary? "They don't. People rarely read web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page . . . "
This research was conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group in 1997 but subsequent research has repeatedly arrived at the same conclusion.
Nielsen's site offers tips on how to format your page to communicate effectively and the articles themselves are tutorials for the observant.
Creating a logical order in your article helps your user. Using h-tags for headlines and sub-headlines helps Google understand the structure of your page.
- Learn about the use of h-tags and use appropriate sub-headlines.
- Before you begin writing, create an outline first.
Choosing your subject
Remember that there's going to be a relative aspect to how Google judges the quality of your article. In other words, how it compares with other articles on the same subject is going to determine how it ranks.
So when choosing your subject, consider how your article will stack up against the top-ranked competitors on Google. You can get a basic idea of this without using SEO software tools. Simply do a search on your subject and use Google Incognito to do it. (Search results are personalized. They take into account your geographic area and browsing history. Using Incognito gives you a more accurate view of rankings.)
To give yourself a chance of ranking in the top 5 articles about a subject, try this shortcut:
- Choose a topic you're passionate about. (You'll be motivated to put the required effort in.)
- Choose a topic that's highly niched. (There often won't be as much competition for the top-ranking articles for these topics.)
- Choose a topic that the competition is weak on. (If you look at the top ranking articles and think "I can do better than that!" you've found a good option.)
- Quality trumps quantity.
- Consider whether some improvements should be made to your current content and create a process for that.
- Ignore spurious ideas like "Every article has to be 2,000 words to rank well." Instead of focusing on word count, focus on providing the maximum value you can to your target reader.
- Be very clear about who you are writing for.
- To start driving traffic to your site, try to have at least 3 articles that rank in the top 5 search results for their keyword (i.e., subject).
These simple ideas and actions are the unsexy fundamentals. And they should be kept in mind whenever you create and post an article.
Most website owners skip the unsexy fundamentals. And that provides an opportunity for you.
Illustrations courtesy of Katerina Limpitsouni